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Monday, March 28, 2011

Kurdys Comments from February 21, 2011 Board Meeting

PPS Trustee Comments February 21, 2011 Melanie Kurdys

I want to take a few minutes to talk about our vision of “Super-tier”. Just what does “super-tier” mean? “Super-tier” is a term this Board coined last August to communicate what we believe is our vision for Portage Schools, our vision of what our school system needs to become to meet the challenge of educating each and every student. Back in 2008, the then sitting school board articulated in its policy ends statement, a starting point for this vision. I paraphrase:

“All students..…will…be enabled to succeed at the next stage of their lives….”

That means they are prepared. Prepared means every Kindergartener is ready for first grade. Prepared means every third grader can read at or above third grade level. Prepared means every 5th grader is ready for the transition to middle school. Prepared means every 8th grader is ready for the challenge of high school. Prepared means every high schooler passes Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2 and every other math class a student needs in preparation for his or her future. Prepared means every student in our district can read at or above grade level. Prepared means students develop skills, like problem solving, teamwork, and communication skills. Prepared means every student graduates with not only the minimum education required by the State of Michigan, it also means each child graduates ready to meet his or her personal next stage, be that college, the military, technical training or employment.

This Board took that vision to another level last summer. We embraced the concept of “super-tier” in recognition that other school districts are making better progress toward actually achieving success for each and every student. “Super-tier” means we want to be among the first districts reporting 100% of our students meeting the vision of being prepared. We want to be among the districts reporting:
“Of course our students meet the state minimums, but more importantly,our students become all they can and want to be.”

Is this vision difficult? Yes. But if public education is to survive, we must believe it is possible. We must believe that every single child can learn AND it is our moral obligation to teach all children.

Some have suggested Portage is good enough. Do you realize, if only 10% of our students are not meeting the state minimum, this represents more than 850 students? Would you be willing to stand before an audience of these 850 children and their parents and say Portage is good enough? What might they hear? You are not worth the effort?

Some have suggested teaching all children would be too expensive. Research shows there is no correlation between spending and student achievement. But we may need to re-allocate resources to meet all student needs. Would you be willing to stand in front of those 850 children and their parents and say, we can’t teach you because it is too expensive? What might they hear? You are not worth the investment?

Some have suggested expecting all children to learn is to be too demanding and unfair. I ask you, from whom shall we expect less? Which child will you look in the eye and say, “Never mind, this is too hard for you.” What might they hear? You are not capable, so don’t even try?

All the adults in our school system must believe every single child can learn AND it is our moral obligation to teach all children. Once we commit to this belief, we can all work together, in partnership with our students’ parents, to begin the hard work required to achieve the “super-tier” vision. Committed people can achieve amazing results.

Who can forget the incredible story of Helen Keller and her dedicated teacher, Ann Sullivan? Ms. Sullivan broke through the barriers of blindness and deafness to reach and teach Helen. Helen Keller went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliff College. Most of us were not around back in 1825 when Braille was invented, but before then it was believed that blind people would never read. And it was not all that long ago that we believed people without legs could not ever walk again, and certainly never drive again. Both of these are not true anymore, due to the commitment and innovation of people who believed in the impossible.

I am hoping the resistance to this vision is not about the children at all, but is about our fears and our concerns in our ability to meet this incredible challenge. We all know this is an incredible challenge. If it were easy, we would already be there. Every single child comes to us with issues. We cannot be deterred by this fact of life. Instead, let us focus on the fact that every child comes to us with dreams. It is our job to create a system that effectively leverages all our collective resources, talent, time and money. It is our job to create a system where caring adults know each and every child, where we teach each and every one the information and skills they need, where we inspire each and every one to think creatively, to solve problems, to invent, to think beyond our limits of possibilities. It is time for us to come together to commit to becoming a “super-tier” district, a district renowned in its ability to enable all children apply their strengths, overcome their challenges and achieve their dreams.

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